There is an effort to restore the original Lakota name to a mountain official named after a reputed Indian killer underway.
The campaign began earlier this year by South Dakota Lakota Sioux tribes including the Crow Creek Sioux and Standing Rock. The tribe has proposed Hinhan Kaga, meaning Making of Owls in Lakota, as the new name.
Standing 7,242 feet tall on the sacred Black Hills, Hinhan Kaga is the tallest mountain in South Dakota, and the highest summit east of the Rocky Mountains.
General William S. Harney, who served under known Indian killer Andrew Jackson, was called “Woman Killer” by the Lakota Sioux due to his propensity to oversee massacres and atrocities. He led troops to attack the village of Little Thunder killing Sioux women and children in the 1855 Battle of Ash Hollow.
It was during this time that an army topographical engineer who served under Harney named the mountain in honor of his general.
The South Dakota State Board of Geographic Names voted unanimously on May 7th to change the name to Hinhan Kaga, but revoked their decision on June 29th after hearing feedback from South Dakotans.
Two of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s cabinet fought against it being renamed, using the argument that the proposed Lakota name is too difficult to pronounce, and that the new name would confuse visitors on account of Harney Peak being so familiar to people globally.
The Lakota People’s Law Project believes such arguments are not only patently absurd, but insensitive.
Linguistically speaking, Hinhan Kaga is similar to Harney Peak, both words have the same amount of syllables, letters, and even vowels. Any novice english speaker could easily pronounce both names. It is outrageous to favor non-existent pronunciation issues over the legacy of a person who killed innocent children and women.
The overriding consideration in respect to the name should be to properly honor the Indigenous inhabitants that Daugaard violently displaced in order to assume the mantle of power. The slaughtering of Indian men, women and children by Harney and roving band of scapegraces should be acknowledged and apologized for, not celebrated.
Even descendants from Harney’s family supported the name change.
While the South Dakota Board failed to respect the culture of the Native inhabitant of South Dakota, their recommendation will still go to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for the final decision.
The Lakota People’s Law Project supports the restoring the name to Hinhan Kaga, and urges supporters to email the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and exhort them to change the name.
Please email Lou Yost with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names at BGNEXEC@usgs.gov.